Anyone who still thinks that Warsaw is a city of concrete and cement has clearly never been to the city’s prize possession, the incomparable Lazienki Park. This glorious 17th century park, spread over 74 hectares is one of the jewels in Poland’s crown and which might explain why half of Warsaw chooses to spend it’s Summer Sunday’s here. With the park being so large it never gives the impression of being crowded, and even on the busiest days you will always be able to find a quiet, shady corner somewhere.
Lazienki – meaning baths, takes its name from the Palace on the Water, originally built in the 17th century as a bath house. Bought by the last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, in 1772, the baths were converted into a private residence and the grounds formally laid out as a private garden by Karol Schultz. Today dotted with palaces and mansions, cafes, restaurants, lakes and theatres, there is much to see in Lazienki and to make the best of it you should try to spend a whole day there.
How to Find The Park
Any number of buses stop in front of the park’s three main entrances, on Al. Ujazdowskie, including Nos. 108, 116, 119 and 166. From the city centre however perhaps the easiest way of reaching Lazienki is to take a tram from centrum to Pl. Uni Lubejskej, and walk about 100 metres along Bagatela to the park’s southern entrance, in front of the Belvedere Palace.
Around the Park
If you enter the park through any of the entrances on Al. Ujazdowskie, chances are you will end up, willingly or not through some hilly paths, set with tall trees, at the vast artificial lake in the park’s centre, straddled by the magnificent Palace on the Water. In doing so, however, you risk missing out on a few treasures, so I usually try to circumnavigate the park instead.
The Monument to Frederick Chopin
My first port of call is the Chopin monument, an art nouveau monument sculpted in 1908 and set at the side of a small pond. Chopin is depicted here in the park, sheltering from the sun under the branches of a tree. I found the monument quite dominating and although art nouveau, I must say that I didn’t really take to the sculpture. The wistful, boyish Chopin looked the part but the tree he was sat at the side of is cumbersome and quite ugly. The monument was placed in the park in 1926 but during the Second World War was completely destroyed but after a successful reconstruction based on old models and photographs it was returned to its miraculously – saved plinth in 1958. From spring until autumn the stage by the monument hosts concerts of Chopin’s music.
Next stop was the Belvedere Palace which was the residence of the Polish president from 1918 to 1995 (it is used today to house visiting foreign heads of state). The palace was built in 1694 but thoroughly re-modelled in 1818. Again I was a little disappointed as most of the building is off limits. However, there is a small exhibition open at weekends during the summer when the president is not visiting. Looking at the palace face on, it is a gem of Neo-Classical design, complete with tympanium and over sized Corinthian columns. A truly amazing building.
Bialy Domek (The White Maisonette)
Less grand but equally impressive is the little white house. This is a summer house constructed from 1774 and 1777 in the style of an Italian villa resembling an inkstand, this was erected for the King to entertain his mistresses. The house was home to Louis XV111 King of France, for the whole of his time in Poland in 1801. This house is open to the public and it displays a fine collection of period furniture and decorations. The house is open Tuesday to Sunday from 0900 hours until 1600 hours. Last entrance is 60 minutes before closing and costs from 3zl – 5zl (approx 1).
Stara Pomaranczarnia (Old Orangery
A few steps away is the impressive Old Orangery which is picturesquely situated at the foot of the scarp. The southern wing of this 18th century orangery holds a collection of trees while the eastern wing is home of one of the very few surviving court theatres in the world. Stanislawowski Theatre was built from 1774-1777 and it is still used today to host chamber concerts, as well as being a popular wedding venue for Warsaw’s wealthy. The Old Orangery also hosts the gallery of Polish Sculpture with it’s collection of antique marble and gypsum sculptures collected by Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski. Although an interesting collection I found these sculptures a little drab but the actual theatre is a wonderful structure and really worth a visit.
Nowa Oranzeria (New Orangery)
At this point of my tour of the gardens I was dying to show off to my mother-in-law the Palace on the Water but thought I would leave that until the very last and instead headed south towards the New Orangery. This orangery is built in cast iron and glass and it was designed by Jozef Orlowski and it opened in 1861. Inside is a vast array of tropical vegetation and Warsaw’s most expensive restaurant, the Belvedere. The venue is very romantic in decor and offers a candlelit atmosphere. I personally have not eaten in this establishment but it has a very good reputation.
Teatr na Wyspie (Theatre on the Island)
Crossing the tail of the Serpentine lake, I followed the path that leads along the embankment to the Amphitheatre also known as the Theatre on the Island. It was built in 1790, the rounded auditorium was modelled on antique theatres, with decorations imitating the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbeck in Syria. The stage and auditorium are separated by water, allowing boats to be moored for performances. The theatre hosts productions throughout the Summer, though unless you fancy seeing Henry V in Polish these will hold little interest for visitors. However, the setting alone is worthy of admiration and it is another opportunity to use the camera.
Palac Na Wodzie (Palace on the Water)
Now to my favourite stop on my tour – the Palace on the Water. In medieval times this area was covered with forest and belonged to the Dukes of Mazovia who used it as a hunting ground for wild ox (now extinct) which inhabited the woods but in 1674 it was taken over by Marshall Lubomirski who decided to change its character. The Dutch architect Tylman van Gameren designed the hermitage with the bathroom (lazienka) which gave the park its name. In the years 1772-93 it was re-modelled as a summer house for the Kings of Poland and in this way the Palace on the Water was created. Today it is a museum and almost all of the palace can be visited, including the main reception room, Solomon’s Hall, decorated in the most extravagant of baroque styles. Many of the King’s personal rooms are also open to the public, set in their original context. For visitors to get the best out of the palace I recommend taking one of the excellent guided tours which are usually available in English twice a day.
In UK we would probably take a picnic to the park but it seems that it isn’t acceptable to put down a blanket and open a picnic basket on the well manicured lawns. There are kiosks and cafes all over the park but they do charge extortionate prices so take plenty of liquid. There is a restaurant serving soups, salads and such like though yet again at unacceptable prices. If you do fancy a coffee then I suggest you go to the Amphitheatre Cafe just behind the amphitheatre. Service is a bit slow but a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie will not break the bank.
I have only visited Lazienki Park once at a weekend and found the park very busy. I usually visit during the week and I would recommend this time to visit as it is more peaceful and relaxing. The park itself is very grand and the most beautiful I have ever visited. Walking through the many paths and gardens you really do experience a sense of a lost romantic grandeur. The architecture is amazing and I think many visitors will be astonished to find such beauty in a city that sometimes I call Gotham City because of it’s sky high buildings. When you visit Warsaw make Lazienki the first stop. You won’t regret it.